Last week I’ve finally had the chance to watch the long-awaited Puella Magi Madoka Magica movie 3: Rebellion, known in Japanese as Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: Hangyaku no Monogatari (Story of the Rebellion). Wait, what?! Third movie? Where did that come from? That had been my thoughts when the third film had been announced.
The first two movies are a recap of the 12 episode series, with better visuals but a worse story – they cut on some of the nuances, the nuances which are all that give the third movie anything to stand on. I strongly suggest watching the series instead of the film, it’s only 40 minutes longer. The story told within the series and first two movies is complete and self-contained, so much so that Madoka Magica is a series I consider to be one of the best anime series I’ve ever watched – everything tying up thematically plays a large part of it.
When the film had been announced, as true fans of the series, many of us had been excited and curious to see what the new film will bring about. Curious, and filled with a slight sense of unease, that the film is “merely” trying to make more money, and is nothing but fan-service. A few months ago the movie had been released in the states and opinions had been divided between the movie being great, the movie being a fan-service-directed money-grab, and opinions thinking that both are true.
(I’m going to spoil the entirety of the Madoka franchise, from the series to the third film, beyond this point.)
The reason I actually dwelt on all of the above isn’t as background for the film, but because this write-up will actually focus on said aspects, and rather than try to condemn or praise the people behind the movie for these things, my point is that they are aware of that point, and actually use the movie to address and discus them. This movie, to me, is a letter from the writer, Gen Urobuchi, to the viewers of the films, to the fan of the series, and is almost an ars poetic piece. I liken it to Hideaki Anno and Evangelion 3.33. In my write-up for said movie, I argued that Anno had been trolling the fans, but my point here isn’t that Urobuchi is trolling us, but that the sort of discussion he engages in with the fans (that is, us), is only possible because we are fans who are familiar with the source material.
A Fly in the Ointment:
Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
Paradise Lost I: 250-255, John Milton
Before we go any deeper, the movie opens with a weird musical piece and our heroines fighting off a monster, while it’s also clear that they’re playing along with what is a witch, their enemies from the first two films. This opening and the movie as a whole shows the director Akiyuki Shinbo going all-out with his unique style. We then see Madoka waking up in her house, and waking up her mother, just as she did in the first film, before greeting the new student at school, Akemi Homura.
The movie is a mindscape/dreamscape film, of the sort I enjoy, films of this nature include Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, Guy Ritchie’s The Matador, Vanilla Sky, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Quite often in these films we enter a world where everything seems normal or just slightly off, but as things progress we see things that either contradict our notions of the world, or don’t add up, and as the movie progresses, more things don’t add up.
It is here that Rebellion is the closest it is to Evangelion 3.33, for from the get-go, we keep thinking, “Wait, just what is going on? Madoka had transcended last we’ve seen her, she no longer exists here, and even if she did, why are all these characters being so chummy with a witch?!” We have a fly in our ointment, and we know things are not going according to plan. This is important, because what the film opens with is exactly what we supposedly had wanted – more time with our cast, and this time everything seems to go according to fans’ wishes, based on online discussions, fan-fiction, and fan-art – we have lesbian overtones between Miki Sayaka and Sakura Kyouko; Tomoe Mami is alive and eats cakes, and everyone is having a pleasant time of things.
Everything is as we always wanted it to be, and yet we keep looking for a way out, because things just seem so wrong. This is an important bit about fan-fiction. Fan-fiction often gives us more time with the characters, redoes or even undoes the ending, but while we enjoy fan-fiction, part of the reason we’ve enjoyed the original material enough to produce or consume fan-fiction is because it did not bite back. There is a reason “And then they woke up and it was all a dream” is such a terribly-regarded ending, because it undoes the travails of the characters, and cheapens their sacrifices. Akemi Homura is a perfect example of how undoing things can be done without erasing the hardships, and just mounting it up, as it takes its toll on the time-traveler.
We are Homura – We are Satan:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
Paradise Lost I: 261-263, John Milton
Ah, yes, Akemi Homura. The time-traveler. Akemi Homura is our voice within the movie. Akemi Homura of our world is the one who had missed Madoka above all others, and the one who had maintained memories of her, and yet she is the one who cannot accept this idyllic atmsophere, whose very core screams in anguish that this is but a lie, that this is not how the world should be, and that this cheapens Madoka’s sacrifice, for the sake of humanity, for the sake of all magical girls, and for the sake of Homura herself.
Homura is conflicted. She wants to live in this world, and yet she wants to vanquish the witch. It is a very common thing for villains in anime to want to maintain the status quo, to erase the world, to stop further movement, just so they could spend more time with those they care about. All too often a villain is born when they want to unwind time to bring back one they had lost. Homura wants to kill the witch, who dared undo Madoka’s sacrifice. All of this is very close to Homura’s arc from the series as well – she undid time, time and time again in order to try and save Madoka. In the film, Sayaka Miki accuses her that she’s too quick to escape to “her own frozen world” where nothing can advance, using her magic.
And then we find that Homura is the witch. And here is the moment where Homura is our voice, where Homura is our embodiment, is made important. To deny change, to try and repeat the story? These are the goals of a villain. These are also the goals of fan-fiction, and an accusation against the fans who had perhaps not demanded, but had been overjoyed at the resurrection of the franchise with the third film. We have robbed Madoka of her noble sacrifice. We had robbed Homura of her eternal solitude, in an attempt to provide a “happy ending”. The witch is the villain; we are Homura; and so we are the villain of this meta-narrative, we are those who had brought back Madoka and wrought this fake world. We, and Urobuchi will not let us forget it, even as he also accuses himself who is of course complicit in this action as well. While the wish had been ours, the creation of the “labyrinth” where Madoka is now trapped is entirely his creation, his and the other people who had birthed Madoka.
This film is called “Rebellion”. Madoka at the end of the series had transformed into “God”, as Kyubei himself had noted. In English, her final form is often called “Godoka” and in Japanese, “Madokami”. The rebellion is of Homura against Madoka. Where Homura willingly embraces the role of “Satan” if that means she will spend more time with Madoka. She is willing to, as she says, betray her own wish, if that means she will save Madoka from her loneliness, and more importantly, save herself from her loneliness.
On the Circuitry of Humanity:
Secure from outward force; within himself
The danger lies, yet lies within his power:
Against his will he can receive no harm
But God left free the will;
Paradise Lost IX: 348-351, John Milton
Though it is revealed very late in the series, Madoka is a story where time-travel plays an important part, especially in Homura’s emotional arc. Homura’s wish is to undo time so she could save Madoka. Literally, she had succeeded, and in order to avoid a time-pradox in a universe where Madoka had never existed, she retains some memories of the other universe, where she still made her wish of saving Madoka. In so-doing, and in so-being, Homura is a transgressive existence, who crosses the boundaries of morality.
Homura’s wish had supposedly been to save Madoka, and had now been inverted. But if you think about it, Homura’s wish was to repeat time and spend time with Madoka. That Madoka’s end had always been terrible is almost besides the point, because Homura got to spend time with her. Her Pyrrhic victory had removed Madoka from her forever, as well as any hope for a happy, normal life for Madoka. Her binding down Madoka to her life, to the repeating the cycle forevermore is not betraying her wish, but merely an outgrowth of it.
Urobuchi had called the fans “Satan”, for their willingness to render a story with an ending into one that forever repeats itself (for what else is rewatching a series religiously?), and in so doing had expressed some anger with us, but that does not mean he had not also shown us a sense of admiration. Aside from Madoka, some of the works Urobuchi is known for authoring are Fate/Zero, Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet), and Psycho-Pass. All deal with what it means to be human, and all stress the element of choice. Humans are despicable for the very same reason that they are worthy of respect, for their divine gift of free will.
Which brings me to the end of the movie, and the closing of this article. The movie has two endings. In the first, Akemi Homura transforms into an akuma (demon), into Satan, and casts down Madoka from her position as God, and accepts that she will damn her and the world in order to spend more time with her. This is a beautiful and touching moment, and an ending on par with the series’. And then, we have another “ending”, which is more like the first twenty minutes of the fourth movie (which is coming). We once more repeat the cycle, with the girls coming to school, and the introduction of a transfer student. This time it is Madoka who transfers in, but it is still Homura who walks with her to the nurse’s office, and discusses the world with her.
I wasn’t all too happy with the inclusion of these twenty minutes. While I didn’t have a problem with them per se, but I had a problem that it was here, and robbed us of our “ending”. It felt like a sort of money-grab, of “You can’t have an ending! Watch movie 4!”, but then it led me to the realization that is this whole piece. The first episode of the series is the end of one cycle and beginning of a second. The beginning of this film is the beginning of yet another cycle. The end of the film? That’s another cycle. Homura is unable to let Madoka go. Homura is unable to let Madoka have an ending. We are Homura. The fans are unable to let the work of fiction go. The non-ending ending? It is there to show us that our wish is to meet with Madoka, and to avoid any possible ending. The film ended just as the series had began – not with an ending, but with a beginning.
If I had to rate this movie, it’s somewhere around a weird low 9/10 never-ending stories, but at times I think it belongs more along the realm of an 8, and at other times I want to shower it with both a 7 and a 10. This movie is interesting on a visual level, on some story-levels (but the overall plot-structure is a bit basic), and extraordinarily interesting on its meta-analysis levels or when you try to reconcile it with the series. Like it or not, I think watching this film and then engaging with others on all the various takes on it is a very interesting and rewarding experience.